New Report: Think gender parity is solved? Think again

Some business leaders are already toasting their progress, but, according to a new report from EY, gender inequality is here to stay.

Gone are the days of alpha male boardrooms and all-boys clubs, but industries are still failing to reap the benefits of gender diversity.

From a survey of 350 male and female leaders from over 50 countries, there was no shortage of recognizing gender diversity’s importance in EY’s latest report Navigating Disruption Without Gender Diversity? But it did highlight a significant disconnect between intention and reality.

Despite the World Economic Forum reporting last year that gender parity was a whopping 117 years away, more than half of those surveyed believed gender equality had been reached or will be reached within the next ten years. In fact, rather than closing in on the gap, businesses are falling behind. The number used to be 81 years, which means women now have another cool 39 extra years to make up for.

Industry divides

When voice recognition software for cars could barely recognize female voices, it posed as a cautionary tale for the automobile industry’s lack of diversity. But whether those lessons have been heeded is another question. When the report compared different sectors on their levels of diversity, the automotive industry scored a disappointing 38% on the diversity score—the lowest behind oil and gas.

On the flipside, banking and insurance have been proactive in promoting diverse leadership which is reflected in the numbers. One female executive in the US insurance industry said they’ve made conscious efforts at “raising insurance’s profile through working with universities and outreach programs to get young women into the industry.” They also promoted attributes women would find appealing in the insurance industry, with flexibility being key.

The confidence gap

There’s no doubt that women and men see things differently, but profoundly so when it comes to determining what helps women succeed. While most women cite more mentoring from senior leaders and greater networking opportunities as vital to their success, a significantly smaller proportion of men think the same.

Birgit Behrendt, vice president of Ford Motor Company says that “women tend to have a lack of confidence, which is something mentors can help to overcome.”

“In my early 20s, when I was a commercial apprentice and always asking questions, my boss said to me: ‘What do you really want to do? Are you going to pursue a degree?’ He saw something in me and really encouraged me.”

Getting to the top

There’s no shortage of recruiting women, but getting them to the top is a whole other issue. Businesses are struggling to identify, retain, and promote female leaders. It’s not happening organically, and less than a fifth are actually implementing formal restructuring.

One female executive recounted her experience of creating a formal programme for developing women. “When it was first raised with senior management, they said, ‘What about a male program?’ I said, ‘Well, you’re looking at it.’”

Where to from here?

Business leaders who think gender parity is already here and now may need to take off their rose tinted glasses.

But there are ways to make gender diversity more prominent: don’t assume gender parity will take care of itself, set measurable targets to identify obstacles for women, and commit to making gender diversity as part of your legacy. Lastly, simply ask your female workers. After all, no one knows better how to make things easier for women in the workplace than the women themselves.